Restaurant reviews: Diva in Delhi and Red Zen in Pune

The latest addition to the 11-year-old Delhi favourite Diva dresses down but keeps the banner flying high. Red Zen at Pune's Marriott Courtyard has upped the ante for Pan Asian cuisine in a city that loves food.

The new cafe on the ground floor of DIVA The new cafe on the ground floor of DIVA
Divine dining

The latest addition to the 11-year-old Delhi favourite Diva dresses down but keeps the banner flying high.

-Hitani Kaur

When it comes to Italian fine dining, very few stand alone restaurants have survived the long haul. One of those is unquestionably, chef Ritu Dalmia's Diva. Having already been around for well over a decade, it's kept abreast with changing culinary trends and reinvented itself ever-so-often.

Pizza Salsiccie
Pizza Salsiccie
Dalmia's newest offering is the all-day Diva Caf. This cozy eatery tones down the brand's finesse with a more on-thego, affordable delicatessen experience. The menu is eclectic but not confusing. Diners have the option of ordering from a selection of Big Plates, which are essentially a range of main courses with a few trimmings. The Small Plates work for those with bird-like appetites.

The ravioli tossed in basil pesto is creamy, delicious and exquisitely plated, as is the cous cous topped with fried snapper. The pumpkin and aubergine salad is a quirky experiment but is definitely an acquired taste, while the mushroom quiche with caramelised onions was far too sweet for something that isn't a dessert. However, the chef's true accomplishment lies in her pizzas.

Pizza Margharita
Pizza Margharita
Perfectly-baked thin crusts, deliciously rich cheese and toppings in flavoured marinades are combined with a distinctly smokey flavour thanks to the newly-installed clay oven. Diva, without question, serves the best pizza in town.

Limited to the ground floor of the existing establishment, the cafe distinguishes itself from the fine dining section with its less formal atmosphere. The interiors are cheerful. An openfaced coffee counter doubles as a bar, comfortable seating blends leather with fabric, and bright swatches of colour juxtapose with deep, earthy hues.The food looks as good as it tastes, and is complimented perfectly by a well-curated wine list and warm, friendly and extremely clued-in staff. The kitchen opens for business around noon and functions right until closing. So if you're catching a bite at an odd hour between meals, walk right in.

Meal for two: Rs 2,000.
Address M-84, M Block Market, Greater Kailash 2, New Delhi, Tel (011) 29215673, 41637858

Red Zen at Pune's Marriott
The restaurant's earthy, crimson interiors are plush and snug
My Name is Red

Red Zen at Pune's Marriott Courtyard has upped the ante for Pan Asian cuisine in a city that loves food.

-R Pallavi

In the past two decades, Pune has grown from a fledgling metro to a city that's vibrant, fun and one that attracts a large student community. It's also a city that loves food and that's where the Red Zen comes in. As if ablaze, the interiors are swathed in crimson shades. These offer a warmth that's enhanced by the firelight of the symmetrically-placed chandeliers and cup candles. In an essentially contemporary set up, Red Zen's open kitchen dishes out flavourful Chinese and Thai delicacies.

While some dishes are Indianised, others are left authentic to satisfy purists. The rather inventive menu was decided upon by Thaiborn-and-bred chef Jatsalid Sirimongkolthong, who brought to it his South East Asian sensibilities.

Your meal is best begun with the scallion pancakes. This Japanese-Korean dish is served with pickled ginger, Japanese mayonnaise with hints of apple cider vinegar, and hoi sin sauce. This can be supplemented with the kung pao chicken, an age-old Chinese dish cooked in hot chilly and made crunchy with sweet peanuts.

These form a fitting first course and prepare your palate for what lies ahead. A much-needed break from the ubiquitous tempuras and dumplings. Another well-done classic is the tom yum. The soup is richer than usual and is infused with lemon, herbs, coriander and prawns.

The main course is simple and absorbs you with its flavourful aromas, be it the burnt garlic in the shrimp fried rice, fresh basil and asparagus in Thai vegetable curry or the flowery notes of the jasmine steamed rice. The desserts are crafted from the same ingredients used in the main course. This keeps the flavours rolling along. Good dessert options are the bua loy and tub tim.

Interestingly, both use a coconut milk base and are served rather smartly, in martini glasses. While the bua loy is warmish with sticky rice balls, the tub tim is crunchy with crushed ice and water chestnuts.

In all, the experience is a delightful one. What better could come of merging a mythologically significant colour with a philosophy of life?

Meal for two: Rs 1,500
Address Marriott, Courtyard City Centre, Bund Garden Road. Tel (020) 6724 8181